CHESHIRE — Representatives from the state’s community health centers breathed a collective sigh of relief following last week’s congressional vote to keep them funded.
The federal budget provides $4 billion for community health centers in 2019 — up from $3.6 billion last year. Under proposed cuts, the state’s 17 health centers, including one in Meriden, would have lost $40 million in federal funding. The centers serve low-income residents and Medicaid patients.
”We were very concerned over the past year,” said Deb Polun, director of government affairs at the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut. “They would have had to lay off hundreds. No way we could have operated.”
On Monday, heads of several community health centers met with U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, to share program successes and offer insight on ways to avoid piecemeal and uncertain state and federal funding.
Federal funds for Community Health Centers were allowed to expire at the end of September. As a result, some centers curtailed services, froze hiring or put off equipment purchases.
“They were holding the community health centers hostage,” Esty said. “It was beyond aggravating.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal visited the Community Health Center in Meriden on Friday.
“This budget agreement is a significant bipartisan achievement,” Blumehthal said in a statement. “Congress has finally produced a long-term spending deal worthy of the constituents who sent us here. Connecticut stands to benefit from significant, necessary increases to both military and non-military spending critical to our nation.”
Blumenthal praised the community health centers for providing essential services to patients and first-responders on the frontline of the opioid crisis.
Ken Lalime, chief executive officer of the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut, told Esty about new grants for domestic violence programs at the centers. Representatives also shared stories about a program designed to prevent unnecessary emergency room visits. Donna Kehoe, of First Choice Health Centers in East Hartford, spoke about a nutrition and cooking program that helped a patient lose 80 pounds.
Children’s mental health programs are also on the rise to combat early signs of trauma and mental illness.
“The health centers are a fabulous place to bring all this together,” Lalime said.